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June 17, 1999

NL East Notebook

Are the Phillies for Real?

by Joe Sheehan

Are the Phillies for Real?

For the second straight June, the Philadelphia Phillies find themselves on the brink of wild-card contention, just a game and a half behind the Cubs and Giants. As has been the case in most NL seasons since the wild card's debut, this "race" pits a handful of .530 teams battling to get to 88 wins, and as such, isn't particularly compelling.

Nevertheless, one of these teams is going to win the right to be pummeled by the Braves in the first round, so why shouldn't it be the Fightin' Phils? They have the game's best third baseman in Scott Rolen, its best quote in Curt Schilling, and a fantastic right fielder in Bobby Abreu.

Unfortunately...that's about all they have. Yes, they've gotten fantastic performances so far from Mike Leiberthal (1.010 OPS, best among NL catchers) and Doug Glanville (.386 OBP, 30 walks, 16-1 SB-CS). Paul Byrd has actually outpitched Schilling posting a 3.14 ERA and averaging seven innings a start. These three players, essential cogs in the machine right now, are unlikely to maintain their performance. And only Rolen, whose .251 batting average hides a pretty good season to date, is a good bet to improve from here on out.

For the Phillies to get to 90 wins and the wild card, they need the following things to happen:

  1. Continued patience from Doug Glanville. With the Phillies' middle infielders not hitting well, Glanville's improvement has been crucial to their offense. He needs to keep posting a .380 OBP, and walking once every eight or nine PA, to prevent a collapse in run-scoring.

  2. The end of Marlon Anderson. He's walked eight times in 205 PA, an unacceptable rate. The Phillies have some acceptable solutions in Kevin Jordan and David Doster; if they're serious about winning now, they need to bite the bullet on Anderson--a minor prospect, anyway--and play the better hitters.

  3. A solution to the #2 starter riddle. This will become more important when Paul Byrd's performance slips back. Neither he nor Chad Ogea have the kind of peripherals that inspire confidence; both are mid-rotation performers. Randy Wolf is a rookie, and while he's impressive in his first two starts, it's risky to rely too heavily on him.

    Amaury Telemaco, stolen from the Diamondbacks on waivers, could step in and provide a big boost. More likely, the team is going to have to try and acquire an arm in trade. If they could fool the Twins into believing Anderson is a prospect, perhaps they could steal Brad Radke away.

  4. An end to the Schilling nonsense. It may already be too late, but if Schilling's arm hasn't already been ruined by his he-man act in May, Terry Francona needs to immediately start capping him at 115-125 pitches. He is the one indispensable Phillie, and the player most likely to go down with an injury.

The Phillies are likely to go the way of last year and fade gently from the race. Their chances are better this year, with a slightly better rotation and a deeper lineup. Making the right personnel decisions--and continued performance from their surprises-will keep them around until September.

Notes

  • Walt Weiss' injury leaves Bobby Cox with a brutal top of the lineup: Ozzie Guillen and Bret Boone, with OBPs of .250 and .325, respectively. This team is going to struggle to score runs, increasing the pressure on a rotation whose troubles have been well-documented.

  • Carl Pavano, since May 1: 5-1, 4.41 ERA, 6 IP/start, 35:13 K/BB ratio.

  • Not that anyone cares what happens in Florida, but Alex Fernandez has been excellent thus far, posting a 2.44 ERA in ten starts. Unfortunately, he's averaging just under five innings per start. Teams with deep bullpens who can carry that--Mets, Reds, Angels--should be calling Dave Dombrowski early and often.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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